THE ARMY was deployed and an indefinite curfew imposed in Guwahati, mobile internet services were snapped in 10 other districts of Assam, and the Centre rushed additional forces from Jammu and Kashmir to the state following a massive surge in protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which was passed in the Rajya Sabha Wednesday.
The sharp escalation caught the state government on the wrong foot, just a day after officials maintained that they were in control of the situation while alleging that the agitation was largely fuelled by misinformation.
By evening, amid reports of widespread vandalism and arson, two columns of the Army were deployed in the state capital where police used tear gas and water cannons, and fired blanks in the air, to disperse a crowd that moved towards the Secretariat.
In Dibrugarh, a senior official said that protesters pelted stones at Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s house and “have surrounded” the residence of MP and Union MoS Rameshwar Teli. The official said “10-12” protesting students received “minor injuries” during a confrontation with security personnel.
In other parts of the state, tyres were burnt, vehicles set ablaze, road dividers vandalised and clashes reported between protesters and security personnel.
Late Wednesday, the central government issued an advisory to private TV channels against showing content that “can encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order” or “promotes anti-national attitudes” or anything that can affect the “integrity of the nation”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, protesters in Guwahati expressed the fear that the CAB would “open the floodgates for illegal Bangladeshis and violate the Assam Accord” of 1985. At many locations, protesters were seen holding placards that read “No CAB”, and shouting slogans against the Bill and the BJP-led state government.
Wednesday’s protests were not called by any particular association. In Guwahati, they started when youths enforced a shutdown of shops and businesses, with some marching towards Dispur and others holding demonstrations.
Final test in SC
Many technical and legal questions raised in Parliament did not elicit answers. The final test — whether it stands up to Constitutional ideals — will be in the Supreme Court. Many in Opposition said during the debate that Bill could be struck down.
Mukesh Agarwal, Additional DGP (Law and Order), said that an indefinite curfew was imposed in Guwahati. An Army spokesperson said soldiers would hold a flag march soon — two columns of Assam Rifles were deployed in Tripura, where an indefinite strike against the CAB was called off Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Assam Additional Chief Secretary, Kumar Sanjay Krishna, ordered the snapping of mobile internet services for 24 hours from 7 pm Wednesday in ten districts of the state: Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Kamrup (Metro) and Kamrup.
Government sources said 50 companies (5,000 personnel) of Central Armed Police Forces from J&K have been rushed to North-East states, particularly Assam. Sources said the forces were pulled out of J&K where the situation following the abrogation of Article 370 is “not expected to deteriorate” with the winter setting in.
“The movement of forces is not very big. There are enough forces in the North East already. The CRPF alone had 36 battalions there. Some companies from Kashmir have been moved as they are not needed there,” said a Union Home Ministry official.
Rupam Goswami, a BJP spokesperson in Assam, alleged that “third parties” were fuelling the agitation. “(Pakistan Prime Minister) Imran Khan is opposing the CAB, and so are AAMSU (All Assam Minorities Students’ Association) and Badruddin Ajmal (All India United Democratic Front chief). Similarly, the AASU (All Assam Students’ Union) and Tarun Gogoi are also opposing. They have instigated the protesters… They are responsible for what happened today.”
Congress spokesperson Rhituporna Konwar told The Indian Express: “It’s the government’s fault. The Chief Minister has failed to maintain law and order.”
Government spokesperson and state minister Chandra Mohan Patowary did not respond to requests for comment. The Chief Minister’s Office did not issue any statement regarding the situation. The CM’s press adviser was not available for comment.
The AASU, one of the key organisations steering the anti-CAB movement, appealed for people to assemble at the Latasil ground in Guwahati to protests against alleged atrocities by police during the protests. Samujjal Bhattacharya, advisor to AASU, said: “We are appealing to the people for a non-violent, disciplined movement. CAB must go.”
Bedanta Laskar, an advisor to the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), another organisation involved in the protests, said: “Today, we saw large crowds spontaneously come out at various locations in upper Assam, like Sivasagar, Jorhat and Tinsukia. Tomorrow, we have appealed to people to peacefully block all National Highways and Railways.”
He alleged that the “government must have conspired to turn the protest violent today to delegitimise the people’s movement”.
In Tripura, the Joint Movement Against Citizenship Amendment Bill (JMACAB), a platform of three tribal parties, and other tribal social organisations, called off an indefinite strike that had entered the third day. “We will decide the next course of action tomorrow,” said JMACAB leader Jagadish Debbarma.
Tripura Additional DGP Rajiv Singh said skirmishes occurred at Kamalpur, Manu and Ambassa in Dhalai district, Teliamura of Khowai district and parts of Sipahijala district. “Police resorted to lathi charge and used tear gas in some locations. The situation is under control,” he said.
(With inputs from Debraj Deb in Agartala and Deeptiman Tiwary in Delhi)
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